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Travel: Google cheap flights faster with new fare search

By Sean O'Neill
October 3, 2012
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Screenshot of Google homepage

Google launched its Google Travel product, Flight Search, this afternoon. You can now search for flight schedules and fares by typing in a request in the main Google box or by going to google.com/flights. (The news was first reported by Search Engine Watch.)

At first glance, Kayak, Bing, and other metasearch sites are still far more helpful than Google, in my opinion. For now, Google only displays flight results for major U.S. cities and only for round-trip economy-class flights.

In the main Google search box, you could enter "flights to CHI" (without the quotation marks). Google would figure out your hometown, based on where you're searching from, and list flights from your nearest major airport to Chicago.

You could also search on "flights from san francisco to minneapolis." If you did that, a new "Flights" filter would appear in the left-hand column, next to things like "Video" and "News." (See image at the top of this post for an example.) If you clicked on "Flights" you would get to see a map of the US and a few simple drop-down choices to narrow down your search. Do you want nonstop flights? A specific time for your outbound flight? Once you find a fare you like, Google will shoot you over to the airline's site, for booking.

Google has only begun to display fares, of course. If the past is any guide, the search giant will probably become more competitive and innovative in displaying fares as the months go on.

Google is using ITA Software—a company it bought (as we reported in April)—to power its flight search. Budget Travel's editor in chief Nina Willdorf has previously praised ITA Software as "the best flight search tool you've never heard of," so all Budget Travel editors are optimistic about what Google might do next with this powerful software.

Google hopes that flight search boosts its popularity with people who use the Internet to look up information. While nearly two out of three searches are still done on the famous site, the percentage of searches done on Google has been declining for a couple of years as rivals, like Facebook, gain popularity, new data shows.

VERY MUCH RELATED INFORMATION FROM BUDGET TRAVEL:

The best flight search tool you've never heard of

10 most useful travel websites of 2011

Sign-up bonuses juice up dining miles cards

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Product Reviews

Sign-up bonuses juice up dining miles cards

To whet your appetite for earning miles (without flying!), several major airlines are offering sign-up bonuses this fall for their mileage dining programs. Your favorite restaurant might offer from 1 to 10 miles for every dollar you spend. But are those miles enough to justify the logistical hassle of signing up and dining at designated restaurants? The value of these programs depends on 1) taking advantage of some of the current sign-up bonuses; 2) having at least one participating restaurant near where you live and that you might dine at every other month; and 3) using the mile activity as a way to keep your frequent flier accounts active. One of the biggest things to change in the past year for these programs has been the development of smartphone apps. Now, instead of having to bring along a clunky, quickly outdated paper directory of participating restaurants, you can get a real-time list of what spots will earn you miles. Another change in recent years has been consolidation in the industry, with only one company Rewards Network, running all of the major programs. This change has allowed programs to become simplified and standardized. If a restaurant participates in the program for United, it probably also does for Delta, too, and you can use the same downloadable app for your smart phone to figure it out. If you have more than one dining card, you can double up on your rewards. Here's the lowdown on how these programs work: It's free to sign up for a dining card that gives airline credit every time you use it. Rewards Network, for instance, will (typically) give you three United miles for every mile you spend at a restaurant. At a value of about a penny a mile, that credit amounts to a 5 percent rebate on a family of four's typical restaurant check. Compared with some charge-cards, that's a decent mileage payoff. No wonder more than 3 million travelers are enrolled in these programs. All the dining programs work in a similar way. You sign up online for free at the sites (see the list, below), punching in your frequent flier number and registering a debit or credit card (American Express, Discover, MasterCard, Visa.) Use the card to pay your bill (including food, beverage, tax and tip) at a participating restaurant, and then miles will be automatically credited to your frequent flier account. No need to tell the waiter. As I mentioned, sign-up bonuses can juice up your earnings. To use United as an example again because it's so large, its dining program currently offers 1,000 mile bonus for signing up and spending at least $50 at a participating restaurant by the end of the year. These are the sweetest bonuses being offered now: Alaska Airlines Bonus: Earn an additional 500 miles if you spend $25 at a participating restaurant within a month of signing up. Delta Bonus: Earn 1,000 miles if you spend $25 at a participating restaurants within a month of signing up. Southwest Rapid Rewards Dining Bonus: Spend $25 at participating restaurants within two months of signing up and you'll receive 300 points United Bonus: Earn 1,000 miles extra for signing up and spending at least $50 at a participating restaurant by the end of the year. US Airways Bonus: Earn 1,000 points if you spend $25 or more on two different occasions between now and the end of the year at participating restaurants. Another perk of dining cards: It's a no-sweat way to keep your frequent flier mileage accounts active and prevent the qualifying miles you earn by actually flying from expiring after the typical 18-month span. (Miles will usually be deleted if an account is stagnant for 18 months.) The first step in deciding if the programs are worth it to you is to see if local restaurants that you love participate. It's understandable to be suspicious that restaurants must be bad to have to throw 5 miles per dollar at you to eat at them. But because of the recession many eateries are becoming more competitive. You can always ask a waiter, of course, to see if the restaurant participates. Or you can download a free app to find participating restaurants. The largest dining club program, Rewards Network is a good example to use, as the major airlines United/Continental, American, Delta, Southwest, and US Airways all belong. Find a participating restaurant by downloading one of these free apps, Blackberry, iPhone/iPad, Android There are some annoying downsides to the programs, though: One is that you can often only earn credit once per month (or a similar limit) at any one restaurant. The other is that, if you're not careful in the e-mail preferences you fill out, you could be blitzed with messages from participating restaurants. If you block the e-mails, however, you could get only one mile per $1 spent—or worse, maybe even nothing, as my colleague Brad Tuttle reported a while ago. The things a budget-conscious traveler has to put up with these days! Have these dining cards worked for you? Share your thoughts in the comments! MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Southwest Waters Down Its Rapid Rewards Program Ads on Boarding Passes: Are Airlines Sharing Your Info? How Do You Use a Cell Phone Boarding Pass at the Metal Detector?

Product Reviews

Which travel rewards program has the most valuable points?

A new study does the math on the value of points for major travel loyalty programs. Long story short: You'll be especially happy if you've been amassing points with Starwood or Southwest. NextAdvisor, a site that specializes in analyzing and comparing consumer products, recently took a close look at the value of travel reward points. To figure out a monetary value for points, NextAdvisor rounded up what travelers would have to pay out of pocket for various hotel stays and flights, and then compared to those prices to the number of points required for redemption to grant the traveler those same hotel stays or flights free of charge. Not all travel companies are represented (InterContinental Priority Club anybody?). But based on the eight brands in the mix -- American, Continental, Delta, Hilton, Marriott, Southwest, Starwood, United -- the awards for most valuable points go to Starwood Preferred Guest (for hotel points) and Southwest Rapid Rewards (for airline points). Accoring to NextAdvisor's math, when points are redeemed for hotel stays, each Starwood loyalty point is worth $0.021 (a little more than two pennies), which soundly beats Hilton (value of $0.005 per point) and Marriott ($0.008). In terms of flights, Southwest's points are most valuable ($0.017 per point), with United coming in second ($0.011). What's the point about all of these point values? The takeaway is that some points are much more valuable, and therefore much more worthy of piling up, than others. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Get discounted travel by buying gift cards Are you more loyal to hotel rewards or frequent flier programs? The Breakdown on 8 Membership Programs

Product Reviews

Get discounted travel by buying gift cards

Did you know you can buy secondhand gift cards to enjoy discounts on plane tickets and hotel reservations? More than $20 billion worth of gift cards are expected to be given this year in the US for Christmas, Hanukkah, and other celebrations. Some people will even give the gift of travel with cards good toward purchases from airlines, online travel agencies, and hotel chains. Case in point: You could buy a $50 gift card from Travelocity and give it to a traveler you love. But your gift recipient might not have any trips coming up any time soon, and they might be afraid they'll lose or forget about their gift cards before their expiration date. So these travelers who don't want their cards auction them or trade them off on auction sites like eBay, GiftCardGranny, CardAvenue, and similar auction sites. Exhibit A: Earlier this evening, someone was auctioning off on eBay a $100 Travelocity gift card, with a starting bid of $65. If you snagged it at that price, you'd be saving 35 percent off the face value, and you could apply the card's balance toward the cost of any upcoming purchase. While that example is great, I've typically found more modest savings of about 5 or 6 percent once bidding takes place. Finding these gift card deals is easy. Sign up for e-mail alerts from GiftCardGranny.com, a site that consolidates gift card auction sales on eBay and other sites. The site will alert you when a gift card relevant to your preferred airline becomes available. ("New gift card available from American Airlines. Click over for details.") A search on GiftCardGranny this evening turned up dozen cards from American Airlines for sale. But inventory varies by the day. MORE FROM BUDGET TRAVEL: Ads on Boarding Passes: Are Airlines Sharing Your Info? How Do You Use a Cell Phone Boarding Pass at the Metal Detector? We Want to Know Your Airport Secrets!

Product Reviews

Solo travel websites for mature travelers

I recently wrote a blog post entitled, "Solo travel websites worth checking out," featuring a number of great solo travel resources, mainly for women. A few of our readers responded through our Online Feedback Form, asking for similar tips, only this time geared towards mature female solo travelers. Ladies, thank you for your suggestions—as always, I am more than happy to oblige. At first glance, I wasn't really aware of the amount of great travel resources available for baby boomer women, but it turns out there is a wealth of information out there! After sifting through a number of websites dedicated to "Boomer Travel," I've narrowed it down to a few of my favorites, loaded with tips for anyone over 50 who can't get the travel bug out of their system. A great place to start is Boomeropia, a website designed especially for baby boomer travelers. The left column on their homepage hosts topics ranging anywhere from boutique hotels and river cruises to museums and other historical travel destinations. Their volunteer travel section is quite detailed, as is the "Money is no object" section, for the lucky ones out there. With its subtitle on the home page reading, "Baby Boomer Travel Advice: Tips on how to spend your kids inheritance," Aging Hipsters Travel is another great website geared towards "baby boomers, aging hipsters, over 50's, adult–teenager or whatever you want to call yourself." Tongue–in–cheek travel advice regarding travel visas and passports, packing checklists and a special section on tips for women over 50 who plan to travel alone. Their tips for travelers over 50 include advice on train travel as well as the perks of river cruising, and leaving "the roughing it to the youngsters." Boomer traveler Donna Hull started her own blog, "My Itchy Travel Feet: The Baby Boomers Guide to Travel," offering her personal travel experiences and best tips for aspiring followers. Advice from several solo travel experts is featured on her website, reminding women to stay in public throughout their trips as well as useful tips for embracing the lonely side of solo travel. If you'd rather not go it alone, there are a few online forums where like–minded travelers can connect, discuss and plan their travel adventures. Try looking through the Baby Boomer Travel Groups on Meetup, for starters, to see where ideas are cooking. According to the website, Boomers most interested in travel tend to be in New York City, Austin, TX., and Brisbane, Australia (this is an international group website after all). You can also sign up for updates on MyTC, a free social media website created just for finding travel companions "in the over 50s." For those of you on Facebook, there's even a group, comically named "Not Dead Yet Travel—Baby Boomers, Solo Travellers, Women Travellers" where you can share travel tips, ideas and maybe meet someone you want to travel with. Are you an older, more experienced, female solo traveler? Do you have any special tips to offer? Feel free to leave a comment or two, and feel free to ask us to cover a travel topic that interests you!

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